Shanna Henkel has worked at The Village Coffee Shop for over 16 years. The iconic greasy spoon in Boulder has been open for 42 years, serving breakfast and lunch all day from 5:30 in the morning to close to a host of regulars that include old-timers and hung-over CU students alike. After working as a waitress for seven years, Shanna bought The Village from its original owners with her husband Ryan who cooks while she continues to wait tables. Between serving plates of hash browns to regulars and clearing dirty tables, over a plate of sausage links, Shanna talked to Eater about life at The Village Coffee Shop, "890 square feet of reality surrounded by Boulder, CO."
A lot of your staff has been here for a long time. What makes everyone stay here for so long? It's just so fun to have all these regulars come in here for decades. I have an aunt and uncle who own restaurants and when we were getting ready to buy this place I told my aunt, if most of the staff stayed it would be great and if most of the staff left it would be really not very fun. She was like, get ready for some turn over, people will leave. When we took over, we didn't really have anyone leave, it was so awesome.
Why did you decide to buy The Village Coffee Shop? Chuck's wife Nancy, who died before he sold us the restaurant, used to tell me, maybe we'll sell you this place one day. At that time my husband was the executive chef at Dolan's, which was finer-dining, seafood, steaks. I was like, I don't think we want a diner Nance, Ryan's got a culinary degree. Then I ended up getting a sociology degree and I decided that The Village Coffee Shop served a really important sociological function and I loved it here. I think to have that kind of place where we have a ton of regulars, we'll have people who go to CU and we get to know them, and then they move away and they come back a decade later, and can see mostly the same staff. They'll be like, remember when I was a punk-kid and I would come in here hung-over all the time, well now I'm grown up and I have this beautiful wife and these three children. It's so fun for us and it's so fun for them to have that. Diane has been waiting tables here for over 25 years, she won't admit exactly how long she's been here for. I feel like in a really transient society, where people move, and change jobs, there's so little that stays the same. I think it's really good for people's hearts to have a place like this. By the time Chuck did offer us this place, I wanted to buy it. I love it here.
What does it take to be a great waitress at The Village? You have to thrive on chaos. It's only fun if you love being really busy and if you love forming relationships with everybody that comes in the door. It's nice when people have worked in restaurants, but really it's personality. How much do you want to get to know people that come in the door? That's really important. I can teach you how to be a waitress, but if you are not eager to make friends with everybody that comes in here, I don't know that I can teach you that. I can't give you that motivation.
How often is there a job opening? For waitstaff, almost never, about once every two to three years. Summer, who is on maternity leave, worked here for five years as the new girl. People always asked if she was new. I've been here for over four years, I don't think I'm new, but I'm the newest person out of all the waitstaff, she said.
You open at 5:30 a.m. What time does the staff have to show up at? My husband Ryan usually rolls in around 2 in the morning to turn on the steam tables, make gravies, and sauces, and batters, and get everything ready. He works seven days a week here. We have a couple of regulars who are always waiting for us to open the doors at 5:30. Ray is in here six days a week and he beats me here every time. We don't open until seven on Sundays, so he doesn't come in because that's just too late for him.
What is the best thing on the menu? The egg burrito and the French toast. The egg burrito is smothered in green chile. Really, really good green chile. It's not very spicy, it's totally flavorful. I eat it everyday. Our French toast is battered - it's really good. People like our French toast a lot.